Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Clement C. Moore's "To the Sisters of Charity" in the New York American

First published over the pseudonym "Silvio" in the New York American (April 10, 1834), Clement C. Moore's lines "To the Sisters of Charity" were revised and reprinted in The Churchman (August 16, 1834) some months later. The poem circulated in other contemporary periodicals, most notably in Catholic newspapers and magazines, during the summer and fall of 1834. Ten years later, Moore reprinted it again in his 1844 Poems.

New York American for the Country - April 15, 1834

Found so far in:
  • The New York American, April 10, 1834
  • American Railroad Journal, April 12, 1834
  • New York American - For the Country, April 15, 1834 
  • The Churchman, August 16, 1834. Signed "S."
  • Philadelphia Catholic Herald, August 28, 1834 [Here and elsewhere, Catholic editors credit the immediate Protestant source: "From the Churchman ! ! !"]
  • Cincinnati Catholic Telegraph, August 29, 1834
  • United States Catholic Miscellany, September 13, 1834

For you, ye heaven-sent Sisters, pure and meek,
No idle, flattering accents I intend--
I know, full well, no earthly meed you seek;
Above all mortal praise your thoughts ascend.
Undaunted intimates of death and pain!
You heed no minstrelsy of earth-strung lyre:
The softest siren notes would sound in vain
To ears impatient for the heavenly choir.

But who that treads life's rough and weary way,
If some fair prospect open on his sight,
Seeks not his fellow wanderers' step to stay,
And make them partners in his new delight?

Turn then, all ye who, with indignant mind,
Behold the vileness of this mortal state;
Where craft and guile on ev'ry hand you find,
With all the forms of selfishness and hate--

Here let your misanthropic brow unbend,
And warmest feelings of the heart expand;
For, if to earth some gleams of Heaven descend,
They sure must light upon this sacred band.

And ye who sport beneath the golden beams
That o'er youth's jocund morning shed their light,
To whom the downward path of life still seems
Immeasurably distant from the sight;

Oh! think me not a censor cold and stern,
A frowning foe to all that's bright and gay,
If, for a moment, I would have you turn
And see these Sisters tread their holy way.

I would not have fierce superstition's power
Bear down your minds, in sullen gloom to grope;
I would not overcloud one radiant hour,
Nor crush one rising bud of youthful hope:

Yet, stay awhile, nor all your moments waste
For joys inconstant as the vernal sky:
You here may deep, though silent, pleasure taste,
Whose impress on the soul shall never die.

For how can earth present a goodlier scene,
Or what can waken rapture more refin'd,
Than dauntless courage, silent and serene,
With maiden gentleness and love combin'd?

Behold in yon receptacle of wo,
Where victims of disease assembled lie,
That gliding form, with noiseless footstep go,
From couch to couch, her angel task to ply:

She dwells mid sounds and sights of pain and death;
The feeble plaint, the involuntary cry,
The fierce convulsive throw, the infectious breath,
The heaving groan, the deep-drawn burning sigh.

Oh! child of frolic, in whose giddy brain
Delusive fancy's ever on the wing,
Think you this gentle maid feels nought but pain?
That in her path no lovely flowrets spring?

Gay visions round your pillow nightly throng--
The morning ramble, and the evening dance,
The rout, the feast, the soul entrancing song,
The flatterer's whisper, and the lover's glance.

Around her couch no brilliant phantoms play;
No airy spectre of past pleasure flies;
But deeds of mercy which have mark'd the day
Give tranquil slumber to her tear-stain'd eyes.

They're precious gems, those tears that wet her cheek
Worth more than all that earth or ocean know:
The noblest language of the heart they speak;
From high and holy extasy they flow.

Her feelings ye alone can understand
Whose deeds have wak'd the sufferer's grateful prayer;
Who've felt the pressure of the dying hand,
The rich reward of all your pious care.

No sad or strange reverse her pleasures dread;
Of time and chance, they mock the strong control.
Her heaven-aspiring virtues ever shed
A cloudless light upon her peaceful soul.

The follies that command this world's esteem,
Within her spirit find no resting place;
Like idle motes that cross the solar beam,
They serve its bright and changeless way to trace.

Yes! such this sacred band, such peace is theirs;
Unchang'd when days shine bright, or tempests lower
Through life they pass, untainted by its cares;
When death draws near, they gladly hail his power.

And then, like birds that seek a better clime,
On swift untiring wing their spirits rise,
And gladly leave this turbid stream of Time,
To take their homeward progress thro' the skies.

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